Monthly Archives: June 2010

Friends of Dean Martinez capture Southwest’s wide open spaces

I haven’t been out to West Texas in years, but I spent a lot of time there when I was younger. Enough time for its spirit to soak into my bones: wide open spaces, brutal heat and rugged beauty, isolation that can make you lonely or make you feel at peace. It all comes back to me when I listen to Friends of Dean Martinez, an Austin-based instrumental band that was born in the desert city of Tucson, Arizona.

I’ve seen comparisons to Pink Floyd, and I can kind of hear that. I thought of it as a kind of Southwestern postrock in the vein of Godspeed You Black Emperor. A friend of mine told me FODM’s music has weltschmertz, a German word that translates as “world pain.” The closest English equivalent would be pathos. I think that comes pretty close to the mark. It’s beautiful, moving stuff.

The current lineup includes Bill Elm on pedal steel and organ, Andrew Gerfers on drums and Mike Semple on guitar. Elm plays the pedal steel with something called an e-bow, which gives the instrument an ethereal, otherworldly sound very different from the traditional country steel sound. Quite a few other musicians have been part of FODM at one time or another, including drummer John Convertino, who co-founded the group and later became part of Calexico, another group know for its Southwestern ambience.

In this video, the band members talk about the band’s origins, their musical philosophy and some of their projects, including the music they created for a documentary about the Salton Sea (a fascinating subject in itself – look it up).

I listen to them any time I feel caught up in the rat race and my mind needs some wide open spaces. I especially love their cover of “Wichita Lineman,” the Jimmy Webb song made famous by Glen Campbell.

I want to thank Roots Note Music blog for reminding me I needed to write about these guys. The author recently made this post about Robert Randolph — another musician who made me think differently about the pedal steel. I remember I used to dislike the instrument back when I was a country-phobic kid. I thought it sounded like a cat being tortured (I’ve changed my tune on country music quite a bit since then). Randolph turns the pedal steel into a source of incredible funkiness, while Bill Elm of FODM produces dreams. I really love people who can make me enjoy something I used to think I didn’t like.



Filed under indie, indie rock, music, postrock, psych, Uncategorized, video

Tool puts on mindblowing spectacle

Calling it a concert doesn’t do it justice. What Tool gave fans at the Cedar Park Center on Tuesday night was an experience. The music was amazing and the light show was the best I’ve ever seen. It was a pretty far cry from the act that opened the 6,800-seat venue — country artist George Strait. Not the kind of show I ever expected to see in Cedar Park.

For Cedar Park, the 6,800-seat venue is a pretty big deal. For Tool, a band that’s used to playing in 20,000-seat arenas, it was an “intimate setting.” I’m not sure if it was a sell-out or not, but it had to be close. The place was packed full of die-hard Tool fans. Some traveled in from the far reaches of Texas, probably quite a few out-of-state folks as well. I felt pretty lucky to see them in my own town, on a press pass no less. I talked to one guy who said he’d been to five Tool shows and this was his favorite.

Things got intense pretty quickly, with a thunderous version of “Third Eye,” introduced by a projected image of ’60s guru Timothy Leary. “Think for yourself and question authority….” After that, the band played one hit after another, accompanied by computer animations, lasers and clips from their famously creepy videos. I think they got something from every album including Undertow. “Aenima” was a special crowd pleaser. Everyone knew the words.

The stage arrangement was unusual. In most bands, “frontman” is synonymous with lead singer, but Maynard James Keenan stood on a raised stage at the back, alongside drummer Danny Carey. Most of the time, with the lights and images projected on the wall behind him, all you could see of the lead singer was a silhouette. Guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor stood in front on either side of the stage. Everyone but Maynard looked like rock ‘n’ roll guys, with long hair and scowls. Maynard on the other hand, wore a T-shirt, shorts and a cap, and on his feet were big oversized fuzzy bunny slippers with scary teeth. Definitely not your typical metal singer get-up. I got the idea that 1. it was about the art, not him; and 2. don’t take it too seriously. I don’t think he’s interested in running any kind of cult.

Together with the music, the light show was very hypnotic. There were geometric shapes, some linear, most fractal. Sometimes the band appeared to be playing under the ocean, or inside the sun. Lots of visions from those videos with their weird homunculi. All in all a very intense experience. It will take a lot to top this one for me. I love the lo-fi indie groups, but it’s great to see a band with so much muscle and musical know-how.

Only negative for me was my persistent problem with rock show tinnitus. I stuffed tissue paper in my ears (I’ve tried earplugs, but they block out too much), but it was still so loud that I could just hear the instruments and a bit of squelchy noise. If I  wanted to hear Maynard I had to stick my fingers in my ears as well. It worked though, and no ringing ears today, so I’m satisfied. Anyone else deal with that problem at concerts?

Allen Rhodes took some great photos for us. I wanted to post one in my blog, but I don’t want to get him in trouble. He had to sign an agreement stating that the pics would only be used for one publication, The Hill Country News.

Note: I had a link to the gallery, but the Hill Country News has since changed its website format (also, I’m working somewhere else now) and the link died.  The pics are still there, however. Go to Hill Country News, enter tool in the search and pick “image.”

Woven Hand

I got a big kick out of the opening band, Woven Hand, which was new to me. The group sounded rather dark and sinister as you would expect. Tribal sounding drums with a bit of a Native American feel, a singer with a deep voice, playing guitar while seated. At times he did a sort of glossolalia. Not exactly metal, but close enough for most metal fans, especially ones open minded enough for Tool. At first I thought, hey, he’s doing a scary evil cult schtick. Then I started to get suspicious and looked them up on the web via my cellphone. Sure enough, they’re a Christian band, or at least a band that does Christian songs. The singer and guitarist is David Eugene Edwards, formerly of the alternative country group 16 Horsepower, pretty well-known group in indie circles.

Isn’t it just like Tool to mess with people’s heads like that, bringing along a band people probably thought was doing devil music that turned out to be a Christian band. And btw, I liked the music. I had to eat some of my words from my recent blog post: Must Christian pop culture always suck? (Probably)

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Going to see Tool tonight – woo hoo!

I was told early on we were not going to get a press pass at my paper, the Hill Country News, but yesterday the folks at the Cedar Park Center (the place where I saw Cirque du Soleil) changed their minds and gave me one. Nice surprise. I’m going to write an article for the paper and of course, I’ll blog about it. Stay tuned.

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Austin’s Zach Anner seeks his own TV show

This is totally not about music at all, but I couldn’t resist. I figured I’d have to do this occasionally, which is why I made a “but I digress” category.

I just discovered a really funny guy named Zach Anner who’s in a contest, trying to get his own TV show courtesy of Oprah. He’s got cerebral palsy (the sexiest of palsies, he says) and wants to do a travel show. And by the way, he’s from Austin, which in no way influences my opinion of him (yeah right). His audition video recently went viral and had over 3 million votes last time I checked.  John Mayer has offered to write and perform the theme song if Zach gets a show. (See, there’s my music tie-in. Now I don’t want to hear any bitching.) If Zach gets the most votes, he will then go to LA for an in person audition along with some other candidates. I think this man needs his own show, whether it comes through Oprah or not, and I bet you anything he’s gonna get one.

Check out his audition video:

Give him a vote on Oprah’s site if you feel so inclined…

And while I was poking around on Youtube, I found out Zach has a ton of videos up. He had a show while he was a student at UT, where he interviewed such notables as Dennis Quaid and Bill Clinton. He’s also got a Youtube series going with friends, called The Wingmen.

The videos I’ve seen so far were quite funny. He really has a talent.

Here are a couple I really liked:

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Robyn Hitchcock: Thanks for twisting my brain into the correct shape!

I saw Robyn Hitchcock for the first time at South By Southwest 2004. Just him and his guitar. No band. At first I thought the frat boys in front of me were going to ruin it. They talked, clinked their beers together, yelled during the songs — you know, basic meathead behavior. But then in between songs, Robyn compared his guitar to a javelina, talked about how the world didn’t exist if you never went outside, talked about the German doppelganger myth: “If you see someone coming toward you who looks just like you, it means you’re about to die, or you just met an identical twin no one told you about — or both.” Really weird and funny. And the meatheads in front of me chuckled, shut the hell up and listened. He totally won them over. Very impressive.

It took a bit longer for me. I was already a big fan by 2004, but when I first heard Robyn’s music in the mid-’90s, I hated it. Several of his songs were included on the mixtapes that eventually turned me onto postpunk music. Before that I was pretty much a hard rock guy, though I was somewhat open to things like blues and classical and was starting to check out world music. But the radio sucked, and I could tell the music on those tapes had substance, so I kept listening.

Robyn’s were my least favorite at the time. First of all, I didn’t like his voice. Second, the lyrics were just too weird and disturbing. Because some of his songs were mixed in with stuff I did like right away — Chameleons, Shriekback, Peter Murphy, etc. — I heard them occasionally and tolerated them. “Leppo & the Jooves” and “Balloon Man” first started to grab my attention, and I would think okay, let’s give this guy a chance, and would pop in a tape my friend made of his favorite Hitchcock tunes–and I was lucky if I made it five or six songs in before I turned it off. I was like, blech, what’s wrong with this guy?

Then for some reason about two or three years later, something just clicked. I think it was “She Doesn’t Exist” that caught my attention. All of a sudden I realized he was absolutely brilliant. My friend’s Hitchcock mixtape seldom left my stereo. I played it over and over. From that point I couldn’t get enough of him. I had to get every CD of his I could find and thanks to SXSW I got to see him perform a couple of times.

If you’re not familiar with Robyn’s music, it can vary a lot in terms of energy and style, but all of it is influenced by the psychedelia of the ’60s. Syd Barrett is obviously a big influence. His early band The Soft Boys influenced REM (that band’s guitarist Peter Buck later joined up with Robyn in The Venus 3). In addition to being a wonderfully idosyncratic songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, bass, harmonica), Robyn is also a visual artist. Some of his psych art wound up as album covers. Explore his website a bit if you want to get an inkling of his many talents: The Museum of Robyn Hitchcock.

My favorite Hitchcock songs change depending on when you ask me, but my custom mix goes something like this:

“The Crawling”
“Leppo & the Jooves”
“Man with a Woman’s Shadow”
“Into the Arms of Love”
“Where are the Prawns?” (from Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight” – Matador Records release, an extra, I think)
“Chinese Water Python”
“Driving Aloud (Radio Storm)”
“Chinese Bones”
“Old Pervert” (an extra from Underwater Moonlight)
“Wang Dang Pig” (ditto)
“Only the Stones Remain”
“Railway Shoes”
“America” (from Gotta Let This Hen Out)
“When I Was Dead” (from Alive Not Dead live EP – I don’t like the one on Respect quite as much)
“Egyptian Cream” (from Gotta Let this Hen Out)
“Balloon Man”

“Ted Woody & Junior”

“Brenda’s Iron Sledge”

“Let There Be More Darkness”

Not sure if that fits on a standard CD-R…

If you want to dive in and buy some albums, I would start with one of these: I Often Dream of Trains, Birds in Perspex, Storefront Hitchcock,  Gotta Get this Hen Out, or Fegmania. I really can’t recommend against any Hitchcock album, but those are my favorites and I can’t imagine anyone who “gets” him not enjoying them.

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Filed under classic postpunk, indie, indie pop, indie rock, music, postpunk, psych, Uncategorized, video

Must Christian pop culture always suck? (Probably)

Another transfer from Live Journal. I still never read Rapture Ready like I said I was going to… Note that I’m not being disrespectful about Christianity. I just think it doesn’t always mesh well with pop culture, especially pop music. Give me good, rootsy gospel or a church hymn over any CCM or Christian rock. I went into a lot of detail about my thoughts on LJ, where it might’ve been read by 2 people:

Must Christian pop culture always suck? (Probably).

BTW, you want to hear some great Christian music? Check these out:

I’m going to go ahead and post the entire LJ article. I think more people will read it here…

I just read a very interesting article in Slate about a book called Rapture Ready by Daniel Radosh. One of these days I’m going to have to read it. It gets to the heart of an issue I’ve been pondering for years: what’s wrong with Christian music? Only it goes further, talking about other Christian pop culture – comedy, fashion, etc.

This is a pretty good excerpt:

When you make loving Christ sound just like loving your boyfriend, you can do damage to both your faith and your ballad. That’s true when you create a sanitized version of bands like Nirvana or artists like Jay-Z, too: You shoehorn a message that’s essentially about obeying authority into a genre that’s rebellious and nihilistic, and the result can be ugly, fake, or just limp.

I guess the reason I still care about this topic is that I grew up in that Christian conservative culture, even though I’m not a part of it now. The whole “separate but equal” Christian pop culture thing wasn’t really in full swing until I was already out of high school. Closest thing to a Christian pop song I remember is “You Light Up My Life” by Debbie Boone. I do remember feeling there was a certain something lacking in Christian “culture” though, at least the stuff that came to us via church camp performers, revival evangelists and musical “specials” that some church members liked to perform, with canned background music.

One of the worst offenders was a musical family that came to our church several times with a Christian ventriloquist show. They also sang and sold records of themselves in the church foyer. Their ventriloquist dummy was cheesy and embarrassing (as those things usually are, Christian or otherwise) and their singing was dreadfully out of key. I also remember feeling there was something very inappropriate about selling merchandise inside a church. How was that different from the moneychangers Jesus kicked out of the temple?

Things got a little more sophisticated in the early- to mid-80s, when I was already a very hypocritical partying college student. I went to a Christian conference in Dallas and there was a wide array of Christian Contemporary music – not really rock yet, but close, it definitely wasn’t any kind of gospel, with the exception of Larnelle Harris. I remember some of the groups weren’t horrible to listen to – one called Gabriel that was just your basic pop, with Christian lyrics, and a group called Silverwind that had a female vocalist from somewhere in Europe, and sounded suspiciously like they were copying Abba. Not long afterward, my youngest brother got totally hooked on the Christian Contemporary music – his faves included Petra, Sandi Patti, and of course Amy Grant. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t satisfying either. I would’ve had a very hard time if that had been all I could listen to and hadn’t had “real” rock ‘n’ roll. I was an art student and needed something with some heart and some punch. The CCM and Christian Rock just struck me as soulless (ironically) and shallow.

Now, that didn’t and doesn’t apply to all Christian music. I say something like this everytime the subject comes up: Christianity always works best when it comes with roots. While the groups I mentioned left me unmoved, I was at times strongly moved by some of the congregational hymns we sang in church. Hymns written by people like John Wesley and Fanny Crosby that I knew had been sung in church for generations. My father was the choir director and mom played piano. Dad sometimes sang solos, songs like the “Old Rugged Cross” and had a lovely tenor voice. That was art to me. Still is.

I feel the same way about black church music. I used to listen to a radio station from Prairie View A&M outside of Houston and I loved it, and for a while, I used to work in an office building that had a little black church in it. The people would not only sing, they would sing their prayers. There was a little speaker aimed out to the street so people could hear. Sometimes when I was working late I would go stand on the sidewalk and listen to them. That stuff is art too. It has a cultural richness to it that the stuff on the Christian rock station just doesn’t, never will have.

One of my Baptist preachers, the one who was most fundamentalist, who said some of the most cringe-worthy things, once said “Christian rock? No such thing!” We made fun of that for years, because it sounded so ignorant. But you know what? I think he might’ve been onto something. As the article above said, trying to force Christianity, which is about devotion and obedience, into a genre that’s about rebellion doesn’t quite work. You’re bound to kill either the Christian message or the rock ‘n’ roll.

I guess I feel the same about Christian music as I do about “folk.” I would MUCH rather listen to an American folk song like “John Henry” sung by some old man on an archival recording after it had been passed down through generations, than listen to that same song by a group like the Kingston Trio. I’d also rather listen to black or country gospel, or a congregational hymn, than some tricked-up modern-sounding thing. Granted the traditional songs were new once. But I think they were created for a different purpose than a lot of the new Christian music today. They were about devotion to God, not making money, or trying to copy another genre of music.


Filed under commentary, folk, Livejournal, music, roots

Latest musical addiction – Fela Kuti

Just snapped to the fact that I had several good posts on Live Journal from 2008 before I quit using it for some reason. I think it might have been before you could embed media (I just remedied that and added three kickass Fela vids from Youtube). Anyway, I decided to take advantage of the share function and send some of those posts over here.  In March 2008 I was going through a bit of a Fela Kuti obsession and what a coinkydink. I’ve been doing that lately as well. Happens a lot really. Check out my LJ post. I’ll send a few others this way as well. I think I’m going to stick with WordPress as my primary blogging site, however.

Latest musical addiction – Fela Kuti

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